It occurs to me at this point that I have been in the world of Final Fantasy IV for 28 columns now. Seriously, this is number 28! It started in August of last year! How did anyone spend this much time working in this world of all the possible settings?
Well, in the case of The After Years, by recycling a whole lot of the first game. But no time to whine about that, we’ve got a final dungeon to explore… soon.
Once you’ve finally had the very final dungeon opened up, you actually do get something else unlocked. Remember all that Adamantite that we were stockpiling all through the game? Turns out that can be used for something, specifically for some powerful equipment. It’s taken us the entire rest of the game to get here, sure, but now we’re finally here and we can go get ourselves some valuable items by turning in seemingly irrelevant items that we had been hoarding through every single tale. Meanwhile, all of the other treasures from the challenge dungeons have been summarily replaced.
I am not sure how to classify the ending sequence of The After Years, I’m really not. Because on the one hand, the game basically decided to just throw everything to the wind and fling the entire group into nothing more than a huge, lingering dungeon crawl to cap off the game. That’s sort of the height of laziness. On the other hand, it’s the first time in all of this installment that we actually get some choice and control over the characters, even if it’s just insofar as setting up the party.
Final Fantasy IV is the only game in the franchise that really took that option out of player hands in the first place, I’ll note, but that’s a different discussion.
Regardless of that, it is what it is, and we have all of the team members assembled in the Lunar Whale as we speed off to the final confrontation. Which seems like a long time for us, the players, because getting to this point has easily taken 40 hours. For the characters this is happening over the span of a couple days. Bit of a difference in scale.
My impression of The After Years has been kind of mixed, but I don’t think you can really talk about the game thus far without pointing out that it is, in fact, nine smaller games. At this point, the actual events have all taken place over a very short span of time, and the characters in these stories haven’t done a whole hell of a lot, especially due to the fact that there’s no space for upward motion. Ursula and Yang get two hours of development, awesome, but they don’t show up in any significant fashion in the prior or later tales.
In short, the whole thing doesn’t feel like a cohesive whole at this point, just a series of vignettes that are trying to link together in a vague fashion. But this is the point when everything does link up and all of the characters come together. After lots of hints and little pieces of the whole picture, the last chapters start up, and they reveal what’s going on, why we’ve had all these thin rehashes of old bosses and encounters, and what it’s all supposed to mean.
So it’s time for the whole thing to start feeling like a Final Fantasy title.
All right, people, let’s talk about villains.
Redeeming a villain is at once the best and worst thing you can do to them. It’s super tempting, obviously, because when written well a villain is easily one of the most fascinating characters in a story. So now you get one of the most interesting characters in the story as someone the audience can actually cheer for, which is why the temptation arises. Yet a redeemed villain has to be different than their original villainous incarnation, often meaning that they set aside the cool stuff that made them likable in the first place.
Yes, it can be done; Emma Frost was a prime example of taking a villainous character and making her a protagonist with good aims rather than necessarily a hero in her early days (that’s kind of been undone with years of character decay). It just doesn’t happen frequently. I bring all of that up because The After Years is wandering into that territory now, and given the game’s narrative chops and track record up to this point, you will hopefully forgive me if I don’t have the utmost confidence in the game’s ability to do a complex concept justice.
Time to start going all in, then.
The short version of the flow of the game is that the first seven tales pretty much take place at the same time, following characters hither and yon in a bunch of events that tie together thematically but not in narrative. This, then, is when everything starts getting explained. It’s an interesting approach, which saves the trouble of having a big twist partway through the story but replaces it with a set of mysteries that players can either figure out early or get bored with reading about for the tenth time.
I’ll get more into that once I’m actually done, though. For now, it’s time to jump ahead to the first tale that starts clearing up all of this mess, spearing the events that will take us through the rest of the game. As you could probably guess, that’s a not even remotely subtle reference to the fact that we’re kicking off with Kain, who’s supposed to be a brooding badass but really comes across more as a moping manchild who has serious issues with his spear. That… may both be a little too on-point and unintentionally autobiographical, yes?